Unsure how to give informal feedback at work? Here’s 4 ways to make your feedback more effective

We all love anonymous feedback forms because they spare us from having to look someone in the eye and tell them what we really think. 

This avoidance is of course understandable - we can all recall a time when someone tried to unsuccessfully change our behaviour. So why would we go through the same pain with someone else?

But the truth is, words on paper don’t change behaviour - conversation does. 

The only problem is we don't know how to have these conversations.

Your bad feedback is killing trust and innovation 

Giving good, regular feedback at work is fundamental to not only the growth of your people, but also your company culture. Despite acknowledging this many of us shy away from giving informal verbal feedback. Why? Perhaps you might recognise some of these blockers in yourself or your colleagues:

  • The feedback is always negative and never solution focused 

  • The feedback is about blame and focuses on what went wrong 

  • The feedback leaves the receiver feeling unsupported and unclear how to move forward

  • The feedback giver doesn’t know how to strike a balance between directness and empathy 

  • The feedback giver ‘projects’ how the receiver will take the feedback 

  • The feedback giver doesn’t want to be the “bad cop” 

  • The feedback receiver has built up barriers against receiving feedback making them either defensive, despondent or fearful

Unfortunately regardless of what’s blocking you, the reality is that bad feedback is like a weed killer to trust, collaboration and innovation in your organisation.

So, would you like to hear our feedback to you?

You need to improve how you deliver verbal feedback.

If you want a flourishing business then you need to create a culture that empowers your people to grow. And that means incorporating more frequent, informal feedback outside of the quarterly review*.

*what use is there in giving feedback 3 months after an event has occurred anyway?!

What actions can you take next? 

The best feedback is reflective, succinct and action-orientated. So practicing what we preach, we’ve created a reflective, succinct and action-orientated cheat sheet with 4 ways you can give more informal and constructive feedback at work. 


Four Ways to Give More Effective, Informal Feedback at Work

First, let’s understand what effective and ineffective feedback looks like:

Effective feedback is...

  • Specific and focused 

  • Clearly illustrated with specific examples 

  • Based on measurable facts

  • Collaborative and leaves time for receiver to ask questions

  • Actionable 

  • Frequent and ongoing

Ineffective feedback is...

  • Vague and without specific examples

  • Long and rambling 

  • Delivering ultimatums or threats

  • Unprepared 

  • Only negative

  • You doing all the talking


Four practical conversational tools to give informal feedback:

1.Let the person take ownership of the feedback

Offering your feedback without consent is not an effective strategy because it creates a power dynamic that forces the receiver into a defensive position. 

A more successful tactic is to ask if the person would like to receive feedback. By allowing the person to take ownership over the situation it creates buy-in, thereby making the recipient more open-minded to your comments.

You could use phrasing such as:

“I noticed a couple of things and wondered if you would like to receive some feedback?”

Or,

“I noticed a couple of things and wondered if you were interested in me sharing what I observed?”

This phrasing has a casual, off-the-cuff style that is easy to implement whilst on the job.

 

2. Pre-frame why you are giving the feedback

A pre-frame is an introductory sentence that explains why you have decided to give the person feedback. This tool makes the feedback 40% more successful because often people like to know the agenda behind your words.

A successful pre-frame would look like:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have high expectations and I know you can reach them.”

Or,

“I’d like to give you some feedback because personally, I’ve benefited a lot from people giving me feedback.”

The reason why these pre-frames are so successful is because people are remarkably open to comments when they believe it’s intended to help them. By you using a pre-frame, it lets the receiver know that they’re not under attack, but that you want to support their progress.


3. Use the word ‘I’

It might sound obvious, but often when we feel conscious about giving feedback we replace the pronoun ‘I’ with more collective ones like ‘we’ or ‘one’, as they deflect the ownership of the words coming out of your mouth.

However, if you want to create a culture of trust and support, then you need to start owning the words you say.

To start recognising that what you say is only your opinion, you could say:

“This is how X came across for me…”

Or,

“When X happened, I thought it would be helpful if you tried…”

4. Use the SBI +A Model to give focused feedback

Key to the success of informal feedback is addressing specific behaviour. Yet too often when we give feedback we allow our emotions to get tangled up with our comments, thereby weakening its quality and potentially damaging the relationship.

This is where the SBI +A model comes in…

SBI +A stands for:

S - Situation

B - Behaviour

I - Impact

  • A - Action

The SBI + A model is successful on three levels. Firstly, it helps the recipient to clearly understand the specific behaviour you would like to address and why. Secondly, it gives them an opportunity to reflect on their actions and consider what they could do differently. And lastly, it removes the potential for you to make assumptions that could damage your relationship.

How to use the SBI +A in your feedback conversation:

Situation 

Open the conversation by stating when and where you are referring to. Providing context to your feedback is important because it helps the recipient anchor the conversation.

For example:

“Yesterday afternoon in the meeting when we were talking about X”

Behaviour 

Next, describe the specific behaviour you want to address. 

At this step, it’s important that you comment only on the behaviour that you observed directly. This is because often we make wrong assumptions or judgements about another person’s behaviour. For example, don’t assume that a person made a mistake in the meeting yesterday because they didn’t prepare well enough. 

For example:

“Yesterday afternoon in the meeting when we were talking about X, I noticed that you made a comment about X which was incorrect.”

Impact 

Then articulate the impact that their action had on yourself and, if applicable, the wider situation. 

For example:

“Yesterday afternoon in the meeting when we were talking about X, I noticed that you made a comment about X which was incorrect. I felt embarrassed because the meeting was with a client and I’m concerned about how this will affect our reputation as a team.”

+ Action

Once you have addressed the specific behaviour and the impact it had, you can now turn to discussing how you can avoid it in the future by asking: 

“How can we avoid this happening next time?”

Or if you prefer, you can tell them specifically how to avoid it.

Note: the SBI +A model is also great for reaffirming positive behaviour. Excellence is idiosyncratic and cannot be learned by studying failure. Therefore you need to help someone understand what excellence looks like for them.

You can reaffirm positive behaviour by recognising the behaviour in the moment. This is important as it helps the person recognise their behaviour, anchor it and re-create it. 


What action will you take next? 

We’ve given you a lot of food for thought, but the key to improving how you deliver verbal feedback is to break your learning down into manageable steps.

So to help you turn our inspiration into your action, we’d like you to consider 5 questions…

  1. What three things would you like to experiment with? 

  2. Now of those three things, which one will you commit to trying? It helps if you specifically set a date, time and place.

  3. Next consider, what might stop you from using it?

  4. What can you do to ensure that you do use it?

  5. Now go ahead and make it happen!